I was privileged to attend the official opening of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) today. Operational since the end of 2018, NCID is the 21st century iteration of a facility to contain infectious diseases threats in Singapore.
It was great to catch up with old colleagues and friends – the event was almost like a reunion, with former clinical directors of the Communicable Diseases Centre (Prof Chew Suok Kai and Dr Wong Sin Yew) and former heads of the the Department of Infectious Diseases at TTSH (Dr Wong Sin Yew as well as founding head Dr David Allen) in attendance. Unfortunately, there were relatively few other members of the clinical microbiologist and infectious disease physician community present.
A little bit of history here, courtesy of a project funded by the National Heritage Board (number 26 on this long list).
In 1913, the Moulmein Road Hospital was built beside TTSH after 20-odd years of wrangling between the British colonial government and the Municipal Commission, with a delay in the last few years as a result of “nimbyism” by the Paya Lebar community and the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company (the other prospective and more favoured sites were in Paya Lebar and Hood Eng Estate at Pasir Panjang). It was then an independent, state of the art infectious diseases hospital, built for the three major notifiable infectious diseases of the day – smallpox, cholera and bubonic plague. In 1920, the hospital was renamed Middleton Hospital in honour of the Dr William Robert Colvin Middleton, who retired as Municipal Health Officer that year.
Rather rapidly, however, all the three diseases mentioned above ceased to remain major causes of morbidity in the Singapore population. Old wards were converted and new wards were built for diphtheria, polio and typhoid, which became alarmingly more prevalent, especially after World War II. With mass vaccination campaigns for diphtheria and polio, as well as improved sanitation (and the building of hawker centres), this new set of infectious diseases also diminished in importance, to the point where there were few inpatients by the 1980s and it no longer made sense to have an independent infectious diseases hospital. Middleton Hospital became the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) in 1985 under TTSH management.
That very year, however, the HIV pandemic came to Singapore and CDC became relevant again. In the late 1990s, the idea of a new infectious diseases centre was bandied around, given impetus by SARS in 2003, pandemic H1N1 in 2009, and the new building that is NCID became operational after 20-odd years of intent for CDC to be upgraded. And so in some ways, history has repeated itself. Perhaps in another few decades, the need for an infectious diseases hospital will once again fade away, only for yet another state of the art facility to be built in the distant future…
The old CDC facility at Moulmein Road emptied its wards and closed its doors in December 2018, and is currently slated for residential development under the URA master plan, although there are nascent efforts to conserve parts of the old hospital.